Last week, The Atlantic posted an article titled ‘7 Ways To Find Meaning at Work’. It’s a compelling topic, not least because so many of us are in jobs purely for the paycheque. According to a Gallup poll referenced in the article, which quizzed people from 142 different countries about their job satisfaction, only 13% of people were properly engaged at work.
The article quoted Gallup, saying that about “one in eight workers … are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.” If this is still reflective of the state of play professionally, then there is a serious career gap that needs to be closed.
The Aspen Ideas Festival recently hosted a conversation David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, and Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute to look at ways people can actively take control and bring more meaning to their jobs. The following are the key points of advice from that conversation.
Attach Work to Ideals
Try to see your work as a contribution towards a larger goal. If that’s impossible in your day job, then try to find a means outside of that which gives you a means to make a meaningful impact on a cause that matters to you. David Brooks gives the example that churning out columns offers no meaning to him because the pace at which he’s required to produce new work doesn’t let him think about the potential impact they might have on readers. Whatever you do for a living, try to get a sense of the bigger goal to take you out of the mundanity of the daily grind.
Recognise Meaningful Moments
Take the time to notice the aspects of your job that matter to you, and what you find most fulfilling or meaningful. If you can concentrate on those small moments that connect you to meaning and to your ideals, it’ll make all of the less pleasant stuff more palatable.
Serve Others or Serve the Work
“The happiest people feel like they’re needed. The greatest engine of misery in our society is a sense of social and economic superfluousness” said Arthur Brooks. Whether that sense of being needed comes from a sense of serving people, serving society as a whole, or just serving good work, focus on what provides most meaning for you personally.
Think About Why You Do What You Do
We’re often judged by our answer to the question “what do you do?”, but we’re rarely asked – and indeed we rarely ask ourselves – why we do it. Think about what your motivations are and recognise the ‘why’ of your career. By knowing what drives you, you’ll be better able to work in a meaningful way.
Ask yourself: what would I do if I weren’t afraid? The answer to that question could point you in the direction that you’ve been looking for all along. So many of us avoid the work that really matters to us because of fear of failure, rejection, societal disapproval, the list goes on. Admit to your fears, and see if your purpose is hiding behind them.
Be Conscious of Life Stages
The rhythm of our lives dictate a lot of how and when we work. Depending on what you do, it’s important to know what the cadence is for careers like yours and to try to step into that flow. By, for example, trying to achieve things before you’re ready and knowledgeable enough to do so, you may end up just frustrating yourself. Accept that you’re a beginner that can improve and will reach a higher standard with more experience.
Don’t Invest Everything in Work
The happiest people, according to Arthur Brooks, are those who have “balanced portfolios” in the four key areas of life: faith/spirituality/philosophy; family; community; and work. If you put everything you’ve got into just one aspect of your life, you’ll likely end up feeling unsettled and lacking a grounding in other areas. Recognise when you’re tipping too far in any one direction.
Meaningfulness in work isn’t just the luxury of those who can afford it. Wherever you stand of the financial or social scale, you have the right to derive meaning from how you spend your days.
As David Brooks pointed out: “There is no income level at which people are not desperate for meaning. The churches, synagogues, and mosques of the world are filled with people who need moral purpose in their life.” So if you need to find some purpose in yours, hopefully the above tips can give you a little direction. Good luck!